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Why Are 2012 & 2013 The Best Years For Seeing Northern Lights?

Updated on July 31, 2012

On this page we are going to take a look at why 2012 and 2013 are predicted to be the best years for seeing the Northern Lights. We will explain why your chances of seeing the Aurora Borealis are significantly higher in these years and also tell you how to enhance your chances of seeing the famed Northern Lights. For everything Aurora related this page should be your one stop guide.

The Northern Lights truly are one of natures greatest wonders. This stunning light show lights up the skies high in the Northern Hemisphere on a regular basis. The lights which are caused by solar particles entering out atmosphere are something that everyone should get the chance to witness at least once in their lifetime. Many of us however are not located in an area where this is possible, so obviously if we want to see the Aurora we have to travel north. The only problem here though is that you are still not guaranteed to see the Aurora Borealis, you need good timing and a little bit of luck. Scientists are predicting that 2012 and 2013 will be the best years we have had for Aurora activity for over fifty years, so why is this?

Solar Cycle

The Northern Lights Cycle Hits It's Peak

Most people assume that the Northern Lights just happen randomly, that there is no way to predict when they will be at their brightest. This however is not the case. The Aurora runs on an eleven year cycle also known as the solar cycle. To understand this you need to realise that the Northern Lights you see here on earth are a result of what is happening with the sun. Solar flares which eject massive amounts of particles into space drift towards the earth on the solar wind. When these collide with our atmosphere they start to glow, hence giving us the Northern and Southern Lights.

When we see a sunspot appear on the sun, this is an indication that particles are being thrown out into space towards the earth. The amount of sunspots we see runs on this eleven year cycle. Some years there are very few sunspots hence very little Aurora activity, when the cycle reaches a peaks however, there are far more sunspots ejecting far more particles, which in turn results in a much higher level of activity from the Northern Lights.

The fact that we can predict this in advance is great news for those of us who want to go in search of the Aurora. The solar cycle is due for a peak over the years of 2012 and 2013. Hence this means the chances of seeing the Aurora will be greatly enhanced and the brightness of the lights will also be increased.

The Northern Lights

Predicting The Aurora Short Term

As well as long term cycles you can also predict the Aurora a few days in advance. This is now quite an accurate science and there are sites out there that can give you an actual Aurora Forecast a few days in advance. These forecasts are put together by simply studying the activity of our sun. When a large sunspot appears and possibly even creates a solar storm, then the level of activity in a few days time will be far greater.

When predicting the Aurora scientists use a scale that runs from 0KP to 9KP. When the Aurora is predicted at 0KP then there is no point even bothering to look up as you will see nothing, however, as the level increases this means the lights will be brighter and you will be able to see them from further south. When the KP level reaches 7 this is known as storm level and then the lights are going to be very spectacular and bright. Over the years of 2012 and 2013 we are expecting ‘storm level’ Auroras to take place on quite a regular basis. When this happens you can view the Northern Lights as far south as places like Scotland, America and even France. Being able to predict the Aurora a few days in advance is a great tool if you are searching for this elusive phenomenon.

The Aurora In Full Flow

The Best Times To See The Northern Lights

So now you understand the solar cycle and know that you can predict the Aurora a few days in advance, when exactly should you be heading north and looking skywards? Well obviously you need darkness to be able to view the lights, so you want to be heading north in the winter time, ideally between October and March. Although the Aurora does run all year round, when you are high in the Northern Hemisphere the hours of darkness are significantly reduced in the summer.

The best times for viewing the Aurora are said to be between 10pm and 2am, although there is no hard and fast rule about this. As long as it is dark you can see the lights at anytime of the day or night. Another thing to think about is moonlight. If you are out on a night when there is a bright full moon, this will decrease your chances of viewing the Aurora. Ideally you want to be out when the moon is not at it’s brightest.

As you can see there are lots of things to take into consideration when planning a trip to view the Northern Lights. As stated earlier 2012 and 2013 are going to be the best years for a long time when it comes to viewing the Aurora both in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. In the north places such as Canada, Norway, Iceland, Sweden, Lapland and Greenland all stand an excellent chances of some dazzling displays. Even in the Southern Hemisphere the lights will at times be visible from New Zealand and Australia. When the KP level is high you should be able to see displays on the horizon from countries such as Scotland. If you have dreamed of seeing the Northern Lights then take advantage of this eleven year cycle and get out there and witness nature’s most spectacular light show.

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